WASHINGTON (CN) – Three civil rights groups claim the District of Columbia has skipped out on collecting information about police stops and frisks, flaunting a 2016 city law requiring it to track such data.
Black Lives Matter D.C., Stop Police Terror Project D.C. and the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia claim in a lawsuit filed May 4 and posted to the D.C. Superior Court’s public portal on Tuesday that the city’s police department has “taken no substantive steps” towards collecting data on police stops.
“Almost two years have passed since the D.C. Council passed a statute mandating that defendants collect this essential data,” the 12-page complaint states. “However, the D.C. government has dragged its feet, indicating at best recalcitrance and at worst and institutional antipathy towards the law.”
The D.C. City Council passed the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Act in March 2016, requiring the city to keep track of detailed information about every police stop, including what led to the stop, whether anything was found during it and the gender, race and age of the person stopped.
The law went into effect on June 30, 2016 and the council later set aside $150,000 to fund the new data collection program.
The District of Columbia chapter of the ACLU filed a public records request for information about the data collection efforts in February 2017, but the Metropolitan Police Department responded in April that the city had not yet implemented the new law, according to the lawsuit.
Over the course of the next year, city and MPD officials gave a string of contradictory statements about how far along they were in implementing the new law. Chief of Police Peter Newsham told the city council this March that the government had not prioritized the new data collection and was not initially aware of “the necessary infrastructure changes that would be required,” according to the complaint.
Last month, Mayor Muriel Bowser asked for $500,000 to be split between the MPD and Department of Motor Vehicles budgets next year to help implement the data requirements, according to the complaint.
The civil rights groups filed another public records request at the end of March, asking again for data on police stops and for documents that would show how MPD was putting the law into effect. But the government has not turned over any of the information the groups requested, even after promising to provide a small sample of documents.
The groups ask the court to order the MPD to fully comply with the law within 90 days of its ruling, including creating any new forms and making the IT systems changes necessary to collect and organize the data.
The groups say the data is critical to evaluating whether police stops fall disproportionately on the city’s African American population.
“The District’s unacceptable delay in implementing the NEAR Act’s requirement to collect data on stops and frisks suggests that Mayor Bowser and Chief Newsham are scared of what the data will prove,” April Goggans, core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. said in a statement. “The time for games is over. This data collection is necessary to enable the community to hold D.C. accountable for what its police are doing on the streets, particularly if the data matches what we experience every day: that MPD is disproportionately stopping people of color, especially black people.”
The suit names as defendants Bowser, Newsham and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue. The groups are represented by Shana Knizhnik, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of the District of Columbia.
A spokesman for the District of Columbia Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the suit, citing the city’s policy of not publicly commenting on pending litigation.